In 1979, the American sociologist Ezra Vogel published a book titled “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America.” When the Washington Post recently asked the author why his favorable prognosis turned out to be false, he answered that the Japanese economy is highly developed; however, he would have never thought that the political system could fail to such an extent to allow for the rapid demise of the country.
Using this example, American journalists, such as Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs, illustrate their gloomy outlooks on “the new crisis of democracy.” They propose to fundamentally change the outdated means, structures and practices of politics in the developed, industrialized nations. In his book “Zero Sum World,” Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator, sees the collapse of the bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 — more explicitly than 9/11 —as the borderline between the “age of optimism” and the “age of anxiety.” Nevertheless, he emphasizes: “80 years after the Great Depression, a strong, successful and self-confident America remains the best hope for a stable and wealthy world.” *
Perhaps that is why President Obama’s traditional State of the Union address evoked such an international echo with its commitment to the central role of the state in getting economic and social development, which has been thrown out of balance, back on track. As in his inauguration speech, the re-elected Obama perceives himself as the bearer of hope and the patron of the impoverished middle classes, who over the past decades had to accept the enrichment of the rich and the growing social injustice.
The proportion of wealth of the richest (1 percent) increased from 8 percent of total income during the 1980s to 18 percent in 2010. Over just one decade the real income of a middle class family decreased by 7 percent. Between 1979 and 2007, those with the highest income were able to increase their taxed income by 275 percent and the wealthy classes (about 20 percent of the tax payers) were able to increase theirs by 65 percent. Obama now wants to gradually raise the minimum wage (which is, compared with the average wage, proportionately one of the lowest in the OECD-region) by 24 percent. In the time of the highest unemployment rate in 30 years, only 27 percent have insurance. Only 7 percent of the employees in the private sector are members of a trade union.
The state is also supposed to prove itself in the areas of education and climate protection, tighter gun control laws and, most importantly, through a systematic and just taxation policy as warrantor of the American dream, according to which every citizen can achieve personal success through hard work. The faith in Washington’s will to govern in the interest of the common welfare decreased from 76 percent in 1964 to 19 percent in January 2010 among the interviewees. Whether the pendulum swings to the other side during Obama’s second term, despite the Republican majority in Congress, remains an open question.
* Editor’s Note: This quote, while translated accurately, could not be verified.
Edited by Natalie Clager